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Posts tagged ‘Nova Scotia’

Maple Walnut Scones

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People often ask me if I miss living in Canada. I’ve been living in Ireland now for almost five years. I have three great kids, a house we’re fixing up, a big garden (and more gardens planned), a small business and lots of friends and family milling around.

So yeah, it’s safe to say I’m usually too busy to be feeling homesick for Canada. That said, I recently got my kids their Canadian citizenship and, this year being Canada’s 150th birthday (if you’re First Nations, though, I should add that Canada is thousands of years older), I started feeling a bit nostalgic with all the celebrations and activities posted all over my social media streams.

Canada Day is July 1st, so it’s already happened. I didn’t do anything on the day to celebrate. Sometimes I host barbecues, bake a cake and have my friends over for Canada Day, but this year – having just had a baby – I wasn’t really feeling it. Too much, too soon.

But I can’t say Canada hasn’t been on my mind lately. So while I don’t miss living in Canada, there are a few things about Canada (or just Cape Breton, really) I miss in general:

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  1. Lobster season: May to July in Cape Breton. Lobsters everywhere you look. Lobster boil dinners at every small community hall. Lobsters being sold right from the boat. I love lobster, and I really miss eating it when it’s at its best. That also goes for mussels, scallops, haddock, salmon, chowder… and the list goes on. I know Ireland is surrounded by ocean, but there isn’t great seafood in landlocked Tipperary!
  2. The beach: Cape Breton has so many gorgeous beaches. By July the water is warm enough to swim, the sand is golden and fine-textured and the beaches are relatively isolated. I love Irish beaches, but find the water is usually a bit too cold and most beaches a bit too crowded.
  3. The restaurants: I love lobster and seafood. I love the places that prepare these foods as well. The Rusty Anchor in Pleasant Bay (where I once had some decadent lobster poutine with a cold beer; one of my most favourite meals), The Dancing Goat in Margaree, The Herring Choker in Nyanza, Charlene’s Bayside in Whycocomagh, The Bite House in Big Baddeck – all of these places make amazing Cape Breton food and deserve all of the accolades. I miss these places.
  4. My friends and family: Obvs. I love and miss my *very large* extended family. Aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, brothers – I miss them all.
  5. The weather: in summer, it’s warm enough to swim in the river and in the ocean almost every day. On the East Coast, though, it’s not as hot as it would be elsewhere in Canada. We have the ocean to keep the temperature moderate (like, 35°C and under). A great deal warmer and sunnier than an Irish summer, but still comfortable (I don’t miss black flies and mosquitos, though).10631983_387625851388458_1137852623_n
  6. Wild Blueberries and good Maple Syrup: I miss these things very much. The fruit in Ireland is lovely, but the blueberries here don’t compare to the blueberries in Cape Breton.
  7. Canadian beer and wine: in Nova Scotia there is a wine appellation called Tidal Bay. It’s located close to where I went to university. The wine is gorgeous. Once, a sparkling wine called (Benjamin Bridge) Nova 7 beat out actual, expensive champagne at a tasting I attented in Toronto. It’s that good. The beer in Ireland is great, so I don’t miss Canadian beer that much; just certain kinds.
  8. Homestyle baking: I know I do a lot of Cape Breton-style baking here in Ireland, but I miss other people’s baking. Namely from the cafes I mentioned previously, my aunties and older people from around my community.

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Speaking of homestyle baking, I especially love East Coast scones. Large, triangular, sweet with a crunchy sugar or glazed topping, scones in Cape Breton are indulgent – often made for sharing – and perfect with a cup of strong tea.

I whipped up these maple walnut scones with another nostalgic food in mind – ice cream! I love the ice cream at home. It’s not soft serve like a 99 here in Ireland, it’s hard and comes in a million and a half flavours; one of my favourites being maple walnut.

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No need for butter and jam on these scones. The glaze is thick enough to ensure the right amount of sweetness in each bite, and the walnuts are toasted in the oven and then soaked in maple syrup. Perhaps most importantly, the flavour is nostalgic enough to get me through to my next visit home.

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Maple Walnut Scones

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups/375g Plain Flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup/60g light brown sugar

1/2 cup/125g cold butter, cubed

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup/250ml cold buttermilk

For the glaze:

2 cups/500g Icing Sugar

1 tsp vanilla or maple extract

3 Tbsp good quality maple syrup

Splash of heavy cream

Toasted walnuts, soaked in maple syrup

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line one or two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar and cold, cubed butter.
  • Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut/rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the centre of the butter/dry ingredient mixture.
  • In a large measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk, then add the egg and vanilla. Mix to combine.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or just using your hands (your best pastry tool!) mix the wet into the dry until just combined (mixture should be on the wet side – if it’s dry and crumbly add more buttermilk!).
  • On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and knead lightly for one minute. Form into a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Using more flour for dusting and a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a thick rectangle (you want to get 8-10 scones out of this dough at most). At least 1.5 inches thick.
  • Cut the rectangle into 8-10 smaller rectangles or triangles. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops with milk and sprinkle a bit of sugar over each scone.
  • Bake the scones for 20-ish minutes. Let cool slightly on a rack.
  • Make the glaze: in a mixing bowl, combine the icing sugar, maple syrup, maple extract (or vanilla) and about a tablespoon of heavy cream. You want the glaze to be thick, but still be able to drizzle it over the scones. If the glaze is too thick for your liking, loosen it up with a bit more cream.
  • Dunk the tops of each scone in the glaze, or spoon the glaze over each scone allowing the excess to drip down the sides. Top with toasted maple walnuts. Allow glaze to set slightly before eating (if you can wait that long).
  • The scones will keep no longer than two days, so make sure you eat them right away!

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Highlights from Home

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Now that the jet lag is gone, Maeve’s teething is (mostly) under control and the mad pile of laundry that awaited my return is (mostly) under control, I have some time to sit down and reflect on my summer in Cape Breton.

It was a different summer. Not in a bad way, but in an “I have a baby now” way. Baby always take precedent, and rightfully so.

Still, I got a part-time job baking pies, biscuits and desserts for the summer. My mom eagerly made use of her alone time with Maeve, teaching her new words (we’re still hearing about crows, or “Ohhh’s” over here), blowing bubbles with her and taking her around the garden when the black flies weren’t too bad.

I hung out with Dan from Tourism Cape Breton and went on lots of fun tours, day trips and meals. I have so many things to write about. 

We had a two-day stopover in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and one of my dearest friends flew from Toronto to meet us there – it was so wonderful to see her and spend time with her family. 

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Before I put my 2014 summer away in my “memories” folder, I thought I’d share some of the biggest highlights of the summer:

Louisbourg

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This was a fabulous day. I think the last time I visited The Fortress of Louisbourg I was 2 or 3 years old – definitely not old enough to remember anything. A trip to this 18th century French fortress was absolutely in order. It was supposed to be stormy that day so we weren’t sure if we’d make it. With Louisbourg, a little misty rain and cloudiness can add to the atmosphere but torrential rain does not a great day make. 

It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of the month. We were lucky, and we had an amazing day with my aunt, uncle, cousins and all our little people. In true Cape Breton style, the bus driver knew my Uncle Donnie. We had a great auld chat (he also told us there’s a Louisburgh in Ireland! Go fig.).

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Fun fact: Louisbourg is the largest reconstruction in North America, right down to the actors knowing the actual stories of the people who owned each establishment. The French eventually lost Cape Breton to the British, but Louisbourg still looks the same as it did in 1744. 

The Miners Museum

From the 1700’s to the early 1990’s, coal mining was Cape Breton’s largest industry. Except it wasn’t, where I grew up. Mine was a farming community. I never thought much about coal mining, as a result, until I visited the Miners Museum in Glace Bay.

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The funny thing is, I come from a family of coal miners on my mother’s side. Her father and all of her uncles mined coal, and so did my uncles until the mines were shut down. What I learned about coal mining – about how the mining companies owned the houses the miners lived in and the shops where they bought their food, and how they never paid them enough so the miners were always in debt to their employers – opened my eyes. When it was no longer considered profitable, the mines were all shut down and the miners, who had never done anything else, were out of a job.

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I think my family members were a bit better off by the time they started mining – they had some benefits by then and better pay – but it was still an extremely dangerous job dealing with toxic fumes, explosions and other serious workplace hazards. My aunt told me my grandfather used to have to fight the rats for his lunch. 

The museum has an actual mine replica and a former miner is your guide. You get a real feel of what it was like underground.

In true Cape Breton style, our mining guide knew my grandfather and my great-uncle Wes.

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We had a really good lunch at the Miner’s Village Restaurant – crispy haddock and oatcakes? Yes, please. 

Family Time

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There are a lot of babies in my family right now. In the past year I think there have been at least eight or nine born and one or two more on the way. Since there weren’t any babies for a long time before this, everyone’s in great cheer. Babies just bring out the best in people.

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Maeve had so much fun with her cousins this summer and I’m so glad she got to spend time with so many of them. Some were too little to play, but Maeve enjoyed tickling their toes. I really have a wonderful family and, even though I love living in Ireland, I miss them every day. 

Glenora Distillery

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Did you know: Cape Breton has North America’s first ever single malt whisky distillery. And it’s awesome.

The distillery is called Glenora and their whisky is known as Glen Breton. They were actually sued a few years back because the Scotch Whisky Association doesn’t like other areas using the term “Glen” in their branding. Sorry Scotland, but when so many of your inhabitants moved to Cape Breton they called a lot of areas “Glen something-or-other” – I mean, the distillery is located in a place called Glenville! 

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At the distillery, you can take a tour, have a tasting, stay at one of their gorgeous chalets on the hillside, eat some tasty food in their pub and listen to the talented musicians who play there every day. Besides their whisky, which is excellent, the pub has a great selection of local beers and wines. 

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I had a great seafood gnocchi when I visited and as a starter we tried their bacon-wrapped, whisky-glazed scallops – which were phenomenal. 

I should mention that their gift shop is one of the nicest on the whole island. You can buy their whisky but also handmade, local crafts, artwork and knick-knacks. There are a lot of gimmick-ey gift shops in Cape Breton where the trinkets are all made in China – this is not one of them! 

On that note, let’s go on to…

Cape Breton Centre for Art & Design

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Cape Breton is home to some truly talented artists and craftspeople. The Centre for Craft & Design, located in Downtown Sydney, has some of the most beautiful pottery, paintings, jewelry, leatherworks, glassworks and weaving around. They feature juried artists from around the island – many with their own small shops; well worth checking out – and work hard to garner support for the arts in Cape Breton.

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Aside from their gorgeous gift shop, they also have a space for art shows and rooms for workshops. They put on summer camps for kids and do a lot of good in the community.

Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

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Before we left for Newfoundland, we visited my alma mater in Wolfville – a small town about an hour from Halifax. 

I went to Acadia University for my undergrad so it was a lot of fun showing Pat around and buying swag at the university shop for Maeve. We even got her picture taken on the sign (a time-honoured tradition).

Aside from checking out the university (and visiting my favourite former professor), we visited Paddy’s Pub, Joe’s for Scot Skins (it’s an Acadia thing), The Library Pub, Just Us! Coffee (where I used to sling espresso) and The Rolled Oat (to visit some good friends). 

I wanted to see the Benjamin Bridge Winery, but apparently it’s not open to the public! Also, we tried to have dinner at Front & Central, a restaurant that made last year’s Top 100 Restaurants in Canada, but it was closed for some reason.

I still managed to smuggle some Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 into Ireland (it’s exquisite. It’s sitting in my fridge now, waiting for an occasion).

Newfoundland

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The amazing new Westjet flight from Dublin to St. John’s gave us the perfect excuse to spend a few days exploring Newfoundland. We could have taken the ferry from North Sydney in Cape Breton to St. John’s, but the plane ride was only an hour long. 

I have so much to say about St. John’s it will have to be another post. For now, let’s just say: I had the best meal of my life, the coziest brunch ever, drank beer made from an iceberg, ate fries, dressing & gravy, got blown away by a tropical storm and soaked in an ocean swell. And that’s just the beginning.

‘Til next time!

Gairloch Falls

The hike begins where my grandmother's life began - at the foundation of a house that no longer stands and a field that my ancestors laboured to clear when they came from Scotland. I should mention that the field is no longer a field, but part of the forest. You need to be with someone, like my dad, to know where the house and barn and fields were. It's amazing how the mountain was once a thriving, well-populated community. Now, it's a road where most cars can't drive and the thickest forest with a clearing every now and then; reminders of where a house once stood.

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Life’s a Beach

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Things are busy right now. Real busy.

Visiting family, day trips and our everyday jobs are making what was meant to be a vacation into a full-time job, but you won’t catch me complaining. I’m loving having my husband here, my brothers and their families and all the time I’m spending with the fabulous folks at Tourism Cape Breton. I have so much to post about, but it won’t be happening today.

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Today I’ll give you some photos cataloging our first time at the beach as a family (spoiler alert: Maeve loooooved it).

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Two Sundays ago we drove for about 40 minutes to Chimney Corner Beach – located off a small dirt road in between Margaree and Inverness. It’s not easy to find if you’ve never been there, but if you do manage to find it you won’t regret it. It is, in my opinion, the best beach on Cape Breton Island. The sand is golden, the surf is gentle, the water is warm – in other words, it’s the perfect beach for small kids (and big kids, too).

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There’s a short hike you can take up to the “chimney” on the south end of the beach. Just walk to the end of the beach and follow the dirt path to the top of the bluff. There are nice ocean views and a decent view of Margaree Island from the top (if you’ve read any Alistair MacLeod stories, this is the area where he spent his childhood and where most of his stories are set).

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This is the kind of stuff I miss about Cape Breton when I’m gone. On a beautiful day, there is no better place to be than Chimney Corner.

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Romesco Sauce

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Life in Cape Breton is so busy compared to my past year in Ireland! I’m feeling a bit like a single mom, even though I have lots of (appreciated) help from my parents and extended family. I miss how Pat used to let me sleep in on Saturdays while he got up with Maeve.

I miss Ireland, a bit, too. I didn’t think I would. Not that I don’t love living there, I just never thought it would live up to Cape Breton. It seems to, though, in a completely different way. The summers are better (and more fun; relaxing) here. My parents and aunties are here and I am perpetually missing them while in Ireland. But the winters in Ireland are better; the spring arrives sooner. I have big family of in-laws who I love dearly. I can travel across several different countries by air in Europe in the same amount of time as it would take to fly from one end of Canada to the other. Ireland has its perks; and it seems like home to me now.

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Cape Breton will always be home, too. I hope my kids feel at home here. But this is probably the last time I come for months on end without my husband. It’s not as fun without him anyway.

BUT he arrives in five days! And even though we’ll both be working it will feel like a proper summer holiday. I am thrilled to be hanging out with some of the lovely folks from Tourism Cape Breton as I rediscover my island home and do lots of research for future articles. I am loving taking care of the baking at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers a few mornings a week, and of course I’m so excited to be able to spend the next few weekends at the beach with my whole family. That’s right, my brothers will be here with their families. We will host a party of epic proportions. With lots of delicious Nova Scotian beer.

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Though I haven’t had much time to cook or bake outside of work, I did whip up this delicious romesco sauce the other day. Romesco sauce isn’t just a condiment, it is a lesson in classic Spanish technique and flavour. It’s practical, using up stale bread and blending bits of fresh, roasted veggies with almonds and sherry vinegar, but it’s also multi-purpose. The flavour profile will brighten up nearly any fish or meat (including my dad’s famous egg-battered haddock) and also works well tossed with pastas or cooked veggies.

A dollop added at the beginning of a paella (although most likely considered blasphemous in Spain) will add an extra bit of zest to the classic dish. And now that most of my meals end up being eaten by an almost-one-year-old, I can attest to the fact that it is absolutely delicious in grilled cheese sandwiches. Maeve agrees.

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Romesco Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded & cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 entire head of garlic with the top cut off (use a serrated knife)
  • 4 medium sized vine tomatoes, cored
  • 1/2 cup blanched, whole almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 red chili pepper, seeded and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1-2 heels of stale bread, ripped into chunks
  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 heaping tsp paprika
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (190 Celsius, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  • Prepare all of your vegetables – core the tomatoes, seed and slice the peppers and cut the head off the garlic (you can save the little bits of garlic in the head for the minced garlic needed later).
  • Throw the garlic, peppers and tomatoes on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the veggies for about 1.5 hours. They will be really, really well roasted when done.
  • Toast the almonds on the stove top (I just put them in a dry cast iron pan and tossed them occasionally until they were evenly toasted). Set aside.
  • In a blender or food processor, add the olive oil, almonds, bread, minced garlic, vinegar, and paprika. Pulse a few times to start breaking things down.
  • Add the roasted garlic, tomatoes and peppers. Pulse until smooth. The consistency should still have texture to it, though, like a pesto.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature with all kinds of meat, white fish, grilled veggies or even just some nice, crusty bread, warmed olives and manchego cheese.

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My Favourite Places #5: Charlene’s Bayside, Whycocomagh, NS

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Now that I’m home in Cape Breton it’s great to be able to share a few of my favourite local places with you!

If you’re from the East Coast of Canada, chances are you enjoy eating seafood by the bucket-load (not exaggerating; we literally eat buckets of seafood here). Scallops, mussels, haddock, crab, salmon and, perhaps the most sacred crustacean of all, the Atlantic lobster are found in abundance in Cape Breton and, while the weather is at it’s finest in the summer, so is the seafood.

Lobster season in Cape Breton runs from May til about mid-July. That’s not very long in lobster-eating time. We like to get a lot of it while we can, especially because it’s more expensive and not as good for the rest of the year.

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I go to Charlene’s a lot. I was just there yesterday for lunch. If you’re looking for a truly phenomenal seafood chowder, Charlene’s wins out every time. It is hands-down the best chowder in Cape Breton. That is not an easy statement to make, but it is true. There’s a lot of good chowder on this island, but they all play second fiddle to Charlene’s.

So what makes Charlene’s chowder so freaking amazing? Well. Aside from being perfectly seasoned and a true Cape Breton chowder-consistency (that is, more soupy than thick), Charlene does. not. add. any. potato. to. her. chowder. None.

Some may enjoy the odd potato in their chowder, but if you really love seafood you’ll be delighted by the omission.

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Instead of potato, Charlene just adds a lot more seafood. I’m talkin’ massive chunks of lobster (never chewy, always tender), whole scallops, shelled mussels and big pieces of fish. Paired with one of her homemade rolls or biscuits, this chowder skyrockets you into Cape Breton seafood heaven.

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I’m going on and on about the chowder, but the other reason I like to go to Charlene’s Bayside is for the FISHCAKES. Best fishcakes, not just in Cape Breton, but ever. Just ever.

Potato, cod and seasonings combine to create a homey, comforting meal. Charlene serves two big fishcakes with homemade baked beans, green tomato chow (a type of relish), cottage cheese and a roll or biscuit. It’s a massive plate, and I have been known to devour one in less than ten minutes. I just love those fishcakes.

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*If you’re cheeky like me, you can ask for a cup of chowder instead of the baked beans. That way I get all of my favourite things on one plate! The beans are really good, though, and pair well with the fishcakes. It’s always a tough call.

If you’re planning a visit to Cape Breton and want to eat here, you’ll find Charlene’s Bayside in the village of Whycocomagh, about 30 minutes before you reach Baddeck on the Trans-Canada highway. Order the fishcakes, some chowder, a homemade dessert and tell Charlene I say hey.

You can like Charlene’s Bayside on Facebook.

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A Happy Belated Canada Day (Among Other Things)

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Hi all!

Time here in Cape Breton is flying. As I re-read my last post I can’t believe the difference a week makes.

It’s been hot. Hellishly, devilishly hot. Low-mid 30’s every day with high humidity. My dad and I have been spending a lot of time swimming in the river and Maeve has been living in the bathtub and kiddie pool – the heat has been a lot for that little Irish lass to take. She’s uncomfortable and hot going to sleep and wakes up in the night, suddenly freezing! Needless to say I’ve had a few restless nights (and ungodly early mornings).

Maeve's been enjoying her time with my family and friends.

Maeve’s been enjoying her time with my family and friends.

Early mornings are my new thing, it would seem, because I’ve taken a part time job at a local business in town (about a 20 minute drive from my parents’ house). Yes, folks, I’m back in the kitchen and loving it – even in this incredible heat. I’ve been taking care of their baking and desserts and getting up very early in the morning to do so.

I’ve always cherished those quiet early hours in restaurant kitchens – before the other cooks arrive, before the hectic lunch service – and I’m loving being the first one in this kitchen three days a week. It’s been a great job for easing me back in the industry (for when I get back to Ireland) and, also, I’m cooking my favourite kinds of food here – homey, delicious breads and desserts using lots of local fruits and berries. Low-fuss and humble, just like us Cape Bretoners (right?!).

Wild Strawberries devoured by little hands.

Wild Strawberries devoured by little hands.

I’ve been working my way through a lot of my favourite home-foods but haven’t really gotten around everywhere – especially not with my camera. So those posts will have to wait. But I have been eating lots of delicious BBQ dishes with my mom and dad, and tonight we had my father’s famous fried haddock. I could eat 100 lbs of it in one sitting.

On Canada Day Maeve and I were invited onto my employer’s float for the annual parade in Baddeck. I really think this was the best way for Maeve to experience the parade – I mean, she didn’t get freaked out by all the strange, noisy floats slowing going down the street; instead she got to ride shotgun in a pickup truck and wave to all the smiling people on the side of the road (if you’ve ever met my baby, you’ll know she loves waving to strangers). After the parade we enjoyed a BBQ with family.

My dad's weird sense of humour. He's missing an antler...

My dad’s weird sense of humour. He’s missing an antler…

That said, I miss my husband. I left him in Ireland and he’s not going to be here until August. It really hits home how much he does to help with the baby when he’s not here, so we’re counting down the days til he arrives. I think he’s secretly enjoying his lie-ins and uninterrupted soccer matches, personally (do I sound bitter? I don’t mean to.).

Bunchberry blossoms replaced by berries within a week.

Bunchberry blossoms replaced by berries within a week.

Wild strawberries - much smaller and sweeter than cultivated!

Wild strawberries – much smaller and sweeter than cultivated!

Rhubarb ready for baking.

Rhubarb ready for baking.

Our garden continues to grow, our chipmunks are growing fatter and I’m keeping an eye on all the wild berries that will soon be ready for the picking (the strawberries and bunchberries are nearly there – the blueberries, blackberries and raspberries will be coming up in late July-early August).

Our little friend wants to escape the black flies as much as the humans...

Our little friend wants to escape the black flies as much as the humans…

I promise to post a recipe soon. This is supposed to be a food blog, after all. In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures taken around my backyard. Yeah, there’s a pond.

The backyard. Great fishin' spot!

The backyard. Great fishin’ spot!

The trail from the pond to the house.

The trail from the pond to the house.

Loving Cape Breton.

Loving Cape Breton.

Cheers! And Happy Belated Canada Day!

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